voice narration

Modern Warfare 2: It's Just a Game screenshot

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Game released: 2009

Developer: Infinity Ward

Production: Commercial

Platforms: PlayStation 3, Windows, XBox 360

Price: $60.00

Get it from: Amazon
Chris Tompkins's picture

Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 2 has stirred drama in the gaming community and media alike with a scene which presents the player with a choice to slaughter hundreds of innocent civilians while undercover in a Russian false-flag terrorist group. The scene is a powerful reminder of what gaming can do, and what it should do, as it grows into more mature shoes.

Let’s pretend you have invited me over to your house to, say, participate in a heated competition of table tennis. And let’s say, in the heat of a losing streak I yelled out a threat against your life. You’d probably laugh it off as an idle threat and make the next serve. However, if I continued to follow up that threat with an intricate description of how I was going to kill you, describing morbid details, where I would hide the body and how I’d get away with it, you might begin to find it less funny. If I started including your family in such descriptions, meticulously explaining how I would kill them all one night in their sleep, drag their bodies into a rented pickup truck, then drive it to the woods and burn the bodies with the lighter fluid in my garage then dissolve the remains with lime, you might nervously smirk and start thinking about asking me to leave your house. Even further, if I began to sketch out elaborate plans about killing you, planning the best possible routes to invade your home without being detected, and describing with what weapons and in what manner I would kill you, you might begin to actually fear for your life. If I showed anyone these plans the authorities would probably be notified, and most likely, I’d be arrested for what looked like planning a murder.

Where in that story did that stop being fun and start becoming a criminal activity? Was it when I first threatened you? No, it would be when I had gone beyond an idle threat and began defining the details of its execution. Creating an increasingly believable narration of a murder would probably begin to make you believe that I might actually do it. However, if I had done all this under the guise of being a writer, published the book, and started a controversy fit for Fox news—most likely no one would be arrested. Thus we have an interesting conundrum. Detailing the plot of gruesome and/or criminal activity in private is a crime, where as publishing these detailed arrangements to the public could be, if properly contextualized, art.  Read more »

Full Throttle: Saved by its Faults? screenshot

Full Throttle

Game released: 1995

Developer: LucasArts

Production: Commercial

Platforms: DOS, Mac OS 9, ScummVM, Windows

Price: Out of print

Get it from: Amazon
Jordan Magnuson's picture

I only review games that I have either just played, or replayed, as I want to make sure that they’re fresh in my head. Looking over the games I’ve played and completed in the last few weeks, the one that won’t leave me alone is, perhaps surprisingly, Full Throttle, which I recently played through with my wife. I considered reviewing the more predictable Blueberry Garden (winner of this year’s Seumas McNally at the Independent Games Festival), but with Beacon and Seiklus still so fresh on the front page, I felt like going in a different direction. I like variety, and it’s my goal with this site to review all manner of games, commercial and independent, old and new. Full Throttle beckons me because it’s different from the stuff I’ve been reviewing of late,[1] because it’s not a game that typically receives critical attention, and because it’s full of memorable characters and settings, which continue to meander through my mind.

The question, though, is how to approach a game like Full Throttle: a game so grounded in an established genre that it makes little, if any, attempt to explore new gameplay ideas? What to do with a game that relies on established mechanics so completely that it seems to seek to legitimize itself entirely through aesthetic, character development, and plot? Some might dismiss such a game out of hand as irrelevant: games haven’t done a whole lot for us in the past twenty years, right? So anything good must come from innovation, pushing the boundaries, doing something different, and new. We’ve played adventure games, and that mode can only be so successful at conveying story, at expressing mood or emotion, at highlighting the unique brilliance of the interactive medium. Case closed.

Or is it? What happens if we forget all that? If we come at a game like Full Throttle with new eyes, intent to take away everything that the game has to offer? Let’s approach this thing from the bottom up. Read more »

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis screenshot

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

Game released: 1992

Developer: LucasArts

Production: Commercial

Platforms: DOS, Mac OS 9, Wii, Windows

Price: $5.00

Get it from: Steam
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Who doesn’t dream of donning a fedora and leather jacket, grabbing a 10-foot, 12-plait bullwhip, and diving into the nearest cave in search of treasure, danger, and adventure? Who doesn’t want to look like an Average Joe on the outside, but secretly be a professor of archeology on the inside, and even more secretly be a globetrotting daredevil?

There are a bunch of games out there that let you do the whip-wielding archeologist thing, but most of them aren’t that great. Two very good ones though, are Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, released by LucasArts in 1992, and Spelunky, released by Derek Yu seventeen years later (that’s 2009, for the mathematically challenged).

The fascinating thing about these two games is that they are quite similar in terms of theme and mood: both do a fantastic job of imparting that sense of earth-incrusted derring-do – both make me feel like an armchair Indiana Jones—and yet the mechanics that make the games tick are very, very different. Fate of Atlantis is a classic point-and-click adventure game, filled with puzzles and featuring a well-developed but mostly linear plot; Spelunky, by contrast, is a an action-platformer-roguelike with procedural level generation, whose player-created story arcs are less defined, and never go the same way twice.

As I recently finished playing through Fate of Atlantis for the second time, after fourteen years away, I was struck that these games, with their similar themes yet different mechanics, present a great opportunity to compare and contrast two breeds of interactive experience… [This game was reviewed in conjunction with Spelunky. To see the full comparative review click here.]

Shadow of the Colossus: It's a Poem  screenshot

Shadow of the Colossus

Game released: 2005

Developer: Team Ico

Production: Commercial

Platforms: PlayStation 2

Price: $19.00

Get it from: Amazon
Jordan Magnuson's picture

My life is flashing before me, and I wonder if I will get down from here alive. “Here” being the back of this behemoth of all ancient beasts, this blue whale monster of the air. Like an elephant senses a fly it has become aware of my presence, and it is writhing to shake me lose: I am an inconvenience, a tickle, an insect that it would rather be free of. And so I cling to my life by the hairs of its back, and pray for the strength to hold on. The world spins around me, and I wonder at my power, and my weakness: the fact that I have in my hands the means to end this creature for all time—though it does not know—and the fact that, if it does not stop spinning, my body will be crushed against a desert rock within the space of three seconds. I wonder what has become of Agro. Dear friend; she will miss me.

Such moments as these are not uncommon while playing Shadow of the Colossus, a game released in 2005 by the same people who made Ico. And what I mean when I say this is not that such moments in their factuality are not uncommon—not that you often die, or often fight large creatures—but that such moments of epic poetry are not uncommon. Shadow of the Colossus, more than any game I’ve ever played, brought me close to Tolkien and Beowulf and Sagas of Icelanders: the game is a setting, a feeling, a long waterfall of tumbling verse. Read more »

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